By Jim Smith
Down (abajo) goes the economy. In comes Barack Obama. Can he charm the economy into reviving? Is he embracing Corporate America while turning his back on the left-leaning people who elected him? Is it a trap that the rich have cleverly lured him into?
Half way through his first hundred days in office, Obama is still a breathe of fresh air after the stinky fascist smell of his predecessors. Even if he did nothing, most Americans would just be happy that he is not George Bush. But beware the fickleness of the crowd, Barack. Today’s hero can easily become tomorrow’s bum.
It’s a slippery path that our hero must walk. On the one hand, he wants to satisfy the demands of the money crowd on Wall Street. On the other hand, most of us cannot understand why he would cater to those whose greed brought the whole economy down.
Since John Kennedy’s brief tenure at the helm, no President has challenged the rich and powerful on foreign or domestic issues. As a result, a entire generation of blue bloods have been born believing that the U.S. government belongs to them. Not a hint of class struggle has sullied their “can-do” congress and white house. For the most part, Obama went along with the upper crust – either willingly or through coercion – when he made his appointments to key government positions. Change is seldom a priority for those who sit astride a global empire like the United States.
However, these appointments have caused a fair amount of consternation among Obama’s supporters. Most of his activists are on the left of the political spectrum to one extent or another. But the only appointment Obama has made who can fairly be said to be on the left is Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor. We didn’t expect him to appoint Ralph Nader as Secretary of Commerce, but what about Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, Barbara Lee, Lynn Woosley, or any of the other 71 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. John Conyers, who has been the leading voice in the House for universal, single-payer health insurance couldn’t even wrangle an appointment to Obama’s blue-ribbon committee on health care.
Four More Years of George Bush?
It seems like we are waking up from an eight-year-long bad dream. Thank you Barack Obama for not being George W. Bush. But, while Obama has reversed many of Bush’s most lame brained policies, he has moved cautiously, or not at all, on issues of importance to the left, including domestic spying, normalizing relations with Cuba (even Nixon normalized relations with Communist China), the so-called wars on terror and on drugs and he is on record for expanding the war in Afghanistan.
Voters told Obama they did not want four more years of George Bush, but repeal of the cornerstone of Bushism, the Patriot Act, does not even seem to be on the agenda of the Obama administration. Nothing since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 200 years ago, has drawn the line between people’s sovereignty and government control as has the Patriot Act. When it is repealed, Americans will know that our fragile democracy has a new lease on life.
The Depression – How to get in deeper
The world economic depression has many causes. Among them are the mortgage crisis, the energy crisis, the global warming crisis, and now, the credit crisis. But down deep, it is an overproduction crisis, with too many goods and services chasing too few customers. They can’t even give those GM cars away. Well actually, they could give them away but they won’t. Just like they won’t give away excess food. Let it rot in the warehouses. And they won’t open all the empty new houses (or Lincoln Place) to people who desperately need a place to live. It’s just not the capitalist way.
There are also too many financial speculators, banks, investment houses, insurance companies and other leeches on the American public. As mentioned above, they have their claws on the government’s resources. In order to reduce the overproduction, and let the economy rebuild itself, a lot of the excess capacity has to be destroyed. That means auto companies, financial companies, banks and bloodsuckers like AIG have to be allowed to go bankrupt and dissolve. Only then can supply and demand get back on kilter. At the same time, the social safety net has to be strengthened to protect innocent workers from poverty, hunger and despair.
The massive Bush and Obama bailouts have done more harm than good by propping up insolvent banks and wall street companies. Their continued existence will just make it harder for the economy to bottom out and recover. The hundreds of billions should have gone to the victims of casino capitalism (what we’ve had for the past 15 years or so).
How Obama can become the greatest president of all time
Unemployment insurance should be cranked up to at least 50 percent of people’s previous salaries, as is done in some European countries. There should be a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions where renters are struggling to pay more than 25 percent of their income to mortgage companies and landlords. A massive jobs and reconstruction program like the 1930s WPA should begin hiring immediately.
The federal government should set up immediate tent cities across the country until everyone can be placed in adequate housing. Adequate food and health care should be declared every person’s right, whether they can afford it or not. Service centers with a food bank, doctors and nurses, psychological counseling, job and housing referrals could be set up and staffed in every community for far less money than is currently being thrown at the banks.
When will the Depression be over?
The short answer is never. That is, the economy will never return to the conditions before September 2008. The U.S. has enjoyed a privileged position in the world economy that is no longer justified by its economic strength.
In March, U.S. auto companies bragged about their new labor agreement with the once-mighty United Auto Workers (UAW). According to the March 11 New York Times, Ford’s new employment agreement would “bring its labor costs into line with what foreign competitors pay their workers in the United States.” The race to the bottom of the economic ladder continues. Before the depression is over, U.S. workers will envy their opposite numbers in Europe and parts of Asia for their high wages.
The golden age for the United States began after World War II when it produced one-half of the entire gross world product (everything produced in the world). Today, it’s down to 18 percent. China, Russia and India have the three fastest growing economies in the world. By the end of the depression, the golden age will likely be a memory, on its way to becoming a myth – like Atlantis.
How you can benefit from the Depression
Congress has just passed another extension to the number of weeks you can collect unemployment insurance. You are now eligible for 59 weeks of paid leave – a sabbatical – of up to $475 per week. You still have to look for work now and then, but otherwise this is a golden opportunity to take a breather, develop your skills, catch up on your reading, take walks on the beach, volunteer with the Beachhead, and in general, become a more rounded person than you were back at the daily grind.
Two or three people who are living together on unemployment should be able to pay the rent and utilities. Don’t feel bad about improving and enjoying yourself while collecting the dole. Remember, it’s insurance. You, your parents, grandparents and everyone else on your family tree has contributed to building the wealth of society. Now is the time to receive a small dividend. Don’t turn up your nose at a year off with pay.